Reverend's Message - October 2016
Living from the point of Shinjin
Rev. Dean Koyama
We have all experienced seeing a glass filled partially with water and been asked, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty? If you say that it is half-full, you are considered an optimist or one who looks positively at things. If you say that they are half-empty, then you are considered to be a “realist,” which is a politically correct way of saying you are a pessimist or one who sees things in a negative way.
Given the political atmosphere that comes whenever we have an election, I feel that the air of negativity has increased dramatically over the entire country. But I reluctantly admit, that I am feeling a sense of negativity when it comes to our temple as well. If I may be so bold to share some of my thoughts and observations.
Over the summer we enjoyed our annual Obon Festival. This year’s Obon was the most successful Obon Festivals in our entire history. We sold out on just about everything; we had ideal weather and hundreds of dancers at the Obon. A couple of weeks later, we held our evaluation and wrap meeting. At the start of the meeting the preliminary record-breaking numbers were announced and everyone was delighted. This lasted maybe 5 to ten minutes. Then we went through each department and committee and I was struck by the change in tone. The meeting lasted almost 3 hours. For example, someone complained that we are at the maximum capacity and cannot handle any more people. We have so many dancers that it is getting difficult to get them all dressed in time and to move around in the circle. And it was pointed out that some of our members work so hard that they do not even get a chance to eat the food at their own Bazaar. In each and every department or committee there was something to fix.
Overall, I think it is important to know the things that need to be fixed so that we can improve upon and perhaps make next year’s Obon even better for not just the public but also our members as well. But again, my point is that we took only 5 minutes to enjoy our success and the rest of the 3 hours was spent on our faults. But in a way, I think we are lucky and fortunate. I think these are great problems to have. It shows that people want to be here with us during the Obon Bazaar Weekend.
But I also think that we have to keep in mind the big picture. The big picture is that we are a temple and the temple’s purpose is to provide an environment where one can work and practice wisdom and compassion. It is a place where we need to learn to get along. It is where we need to learn and discover the strength and extent of ego. Sometimes we focus so much only on ourselves and how things affect and impact only on us that we may forget about what is our real purpose for doing all of this. Life is not fair. No matter how much we may try to get all of our members to share equally in the workload, this is just not possible. We all have different limitations and different priorities. Some of us can only spend one shift at Obon. Others make it a point to be here every day two to three weeks leading up to and after the Obon weekend to get things done. All of these people need to be appreciated.
What I am concerned about is that are we generating a “negative” attitude that is not conducive of getting more people involved. If we are what can we do to correct this trend? What motivates us to be negative rather than positive? I think very simply, that the main cause of being negative is our ego. When things don’t go our way, we complain, we grumble, we monku. But when things do go our way we are happy and positive. However, I think there is a deeper sense of being positive that is not based upon getting our way.
More than moving from the perspective of whether or not it suits my conditions that we often see as being “fair or unfair to me,” we need to be reminded that our founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran was trying to have us move and live from the point of Shinjin. Shinjin is the deep awareness of our own self-limitations, faults and frailties. It is at the same time the deep awareness that as such a person, we still receive the benefit of the wisdom and compassion that surrounds us, just as we are. In our rich history, there are accounts of certain individuals who exhibited this kind of understanding. They are called myokonin, which literally means wonderfully well-liked person. This term myokonin refer to these very devout Jodo Shinshu followers whose lives exemplify a profound understanding of the Nembutsu and live a life of sincere gratitude and appreciation.
One such person was named Seikuro. One day while he was away attending a service at the village temple, a thief broke into his house and stole 7 pieces of silver hidden beneath the straw mats of the floor.
Upon hearing about this, the neighbors said to Seikuro, "It is too bad that someone stole your money."
Seikuro replied, "No, it is too bad for the robber. If it happened 2 or 3 days ago, I had 15 pieces of silver. But yesterday I had to pay 8 pieces of silver for my Spring laundry bill and that is why I only had 7 pieces left in the house. After going through all the trouble to break in, I am glad at least that he didn’t go home empty handed."
The village people were flabbergasted,
"How can you say that you are happy after having been robbed?"
"I was the victim this time. But even, I, Seikuro was born filled with defilements and passions and I have the nature to want other people’s things and money. The true nature of the thief and myself are exactly the same. But, for even this kind of being, through the Great compassion of Amida Buddha, I have not become one with the stealing heart. So, how can I not be happy if I think that I have not become one who does steal?
Another myokonin by the name of Genza (1842-1930), came home one day and saw that some thorny vines had been tied around the trunk of his persimmon tree.
"Who did this?" he asked.
His son said, "I did. To protect the persimmons from being stolen by the neighborhood children. What will you do if someone gets hurt?"
So saying, Genza removed the thorny branches and, instead, stood a ladder against the tree.
The son protested, "Why are you making it easier for them to steal our persimmons?"
Genza said, "Let them take what they want. We'll still have plenty more to eat."
Both Seikuro and Genza were moved into action from the aspect of Shinjin. Seikuro understood that given the proper circumstances, he, too, could have become a robber, but because of the influence he had received from his wife who led him to the Teachings of Nembutsu, he did not have the urge to rob others. And with this realization, he empathized and worried about the one who robbed him. In the same way, Genza knew that the persimmon tree had more than enough persimmons for himself and his son. He did not need to hoard the persimmons and only keep them for himself. Rather, he worried about those young children who would risk falling from the tree in order to get some of the ripe juicy persimmons.
I understand that we are all working for the benefit of the temple. But we must keep in mind the fundamental purpose of the temple. And that is to provide a safe environment where one can learn and put into practice the Teachings of the Nembutsu, the teachings of Wisdom and Compassion, the teaching of Appreciation and Gratitude.
If we can do this, then I think we are in line with our Palo Alto Buddhist Temple’s Mission Statement:
We strive to embody Buddhism in action. Wisdom and compassion, gratitude, and acceptance of change are the essence of our teachings. With respectful acceptance of others, we offer spiritual learning in an active social community of harmonious cooperation.
Thinking half-full and positive thoughts in Gassho,
Namo Amida Butsu